Interview with Hijra film makers.

By Darren Marples.

Edited by Tom Wiese.

I managed to catch up with a film maker who is in the process of setting up a documentary about the Hijra folk in India.

Hijra-Trans sex workers getting ready for work

Could you please introduce yourself:

I’m Ila Mehrotra Jenkins, I’m the director of the documentary HIJRA. I grew up in Delhi and I’ve been based in Britain for the last decade. During this time I’ve been working in British television, specifically in documentaries and current affairs with the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV. HIJRA is my first feature documentary.

Most people will not know who hijra people are who read our article, due to culture differences. How do the hijra differ from Western Transgender? Could you please explain?

Hijras are the oldest ethnic transgender community in the world. Hijras are known as the ‘holy hermaphrodites’ from ancient Hindu scriptures. The scriptures say the hijras have the power to bless and curse, and even today that belief is very prevalent.
Tradition holds that a hijra must leave their biological family and society to live within a hijra family and earn a living through their blessings. Through the centuries, the hijra community has grown to absorb very large numbers of trans and non-binary people, particularly from the lower sections of Indian society. Paradoxically, while hijras are considered ‘holy’ in society, it is a matter of grave shame to manhood to have a hijra within one’s family. Unfortunately, young trans-hijras are often excluded from their biological families to live amongst hijras. They continue to bless in exchange for money in India today, but a very large number of hijras are forced to beg and do sex work to survive, excluded from education and mainstream society. As in many parts of the world, hijra people in India face extreme violence, marginalisation and abuse; but unlike in many countries, while facing extreme ostracisation, transgender people can find a precarious acceptance in society as “sacred” figures.

What are the rights both legally and socially of the hijra community in India?

In 2014, the Supreme Court of India recognised transgender people as a Third Gender and a socially and economically backward class entitled to reservations in education and jobs, and also directed union and state governments to frame welfare schemes for them.
This tabled bill was then passed in 2018 in a much watered down and heavily amended version that provides the equal recognition and protection only in theory.
Although homosexuality was finally decriminalised in 2018, in reality, hijras continue to face massive discrimination, marginalisation, violence and abuse, as societal prejudice is very widespread.

Hijra- Trans activist – warrior, Rudrani

How important is the making of this film for yourselves and society understanding and what do you wish to achieve in the making?

We hope to share the stories of hijras. One such astonishing activist for the hijra community is Rudrani Chettri. Part of this film includes her and the hijras she helps, and through this film we hope the world will hear the voices of the trans-hijra community. Further, we hope for the film to raise support of Rudrani’s work and help with increasing acceptance for trans-hijra identities, in the way they wish to be defined.

What can other cultures learn from the hijra?

The hijra trans community inspires others to have the courage to live beyond restrictive gender norms. While they have faced severe discrimination hijras have also thrived as a welcoming community to those who choose to live a transgender identity.

Hijra blessing at a temple.

How can others support you?

We are currently asking for financial support through our crowdfunding campaign:

These funds would allow us to continue making the documentary, and will help get us into production for two crucial shoots. We’d ask you to please support us and share the project widely and support Rudrani’s work for acceptance, love and respect for the trans hijras in all their human complexity.
This film will spread the word about the struggle these incredible people face, encouraging international solidarity by documenting the hope and force of will they display, and reaching out to the wider community on their behalf.

Being Queer in Nigeria

By: Jmarkphilip
Twitter: @IMarkphilip

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Growing up I had been a little bit perplex about my desires for boys, unlike most gay guys who might have either been confused or scared, I wasn’t. I was hard desiring for the hard palms of a man, listening to the melody of his deep coarse voice and being in the embrace of his broad shoulders. I was only surprised at my desires but I liked it. I knew I was different, I understood the fact that I might be alone in this but I didn’t care, I rejoiced at the idea that I was unique, that I was different. But deep down I felt this way only because I saw my craving as just a phase, a storming tide that would soon disappear.

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The family play, had always been our game of amusement when we were much younger, for obvious reasons I would always play the father, any of my sisters or female cousins that was visiting at that time would play the mother, and the rest of my siblings would either be the kid(s) or the wicked uncle or the aunt. I would always have a job and provide for “my family “, just like every father would.

Even in the game as children we didn’t or rather couldn’t, identify the need for a homosexual relationship, as Children. Probably that was part of the reason why I believed my desires were only for a moment, or maybe it was the actions of the other boys in school. Just like most primary and secondary schools in Nigeria, boys were fond of touching each others genitals for fun and amusement, some often derive accomplishments at showing off their few strands of pubic hair.

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The concept of LGBT differs in Nigeria with each different region. However growing up in the Northern part of Nigeria, every gay guy wanted to be in relationship, regardless of its feasibility, as I  reminisce at my adolescence days I realise that what I had with the two different guys wasn’t a loving relationship, I fail to remember much about them but their first names, did I even know any other thing but their first names was the real question, as was the case for most gay guys in the North.

The pressure to have “the traditional family” is high in the Nigerian society, every parent wants to be a grandparent, it is a thing of pride to have grandchildren and even a greater pride to be called a great-grandparent. Nigerians are known to follow the ‘normal’, regardless of evidence or enlightenment pointing otherwise. A considerable amount of gay people that can’t resist the pressure from their parents get married and maybe for the first few months or years (for the strong) remain faithful to their spouse and there after goes ‘hunting’.

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Some others however, do not get married due to societal/parental pressure(s) but due to their inability to break free of traditions and customs, they fail to grasp the fact that these traditions change with new findings. The double standard or hypocrisy of the LGBT Community in Nigeria is beyond comprehension and a factor to her demise, based on my observations only about roughly 10% of MSM identify themselves as being queer, the rest of the population cling to the identity of being open minded, Bicurious, or Bisexual.

To communicate freely in the open, terms have been coined, the terminology used by gay persons in Nigeria differ from State-to-State and from Friends-to-Friends, some terms however are being used by many gay Nigerian, similar in concept to the basic gay polari language that was used in Britain before decriminalising homosexuality, yet even more basic, here’s a few:

• TB: (n) to be gay.
I am not a big fan of the word, I fail to understand how I would choose to identify myself by the role I play during coitus (Top or Bottom)
• Sharle: (v) the act of being effeminate
• Wear Kito: (v) 1 to be gay bashed
                 (v) 2 to be outed
• Scatter Weave-on: (v) to knowingly act effeminate
• Wear Weave-on: (v) same as scatter weave-on
• Sister: (n) a gay guy who prefers to bottom.
• Lesbianism: (v) coitus between sisters

However, some terms can be restricted to friends or probably regions;
• Happy: (n) to be Gay
• Shokiri: (n) to be gay
• Mekpos: (n) a boyfriend
• Ruler: (n) to be straight
• Lola: (n) a Lesbian

There is no usual way of being queer. The fact that one is queer doesn’t imply that he hates football/soccer, dislikes women, loves the Opera or Broadway, automatically a model, a catwalk coach, a designer or a stylist, enjoys shopping, snap’s fingers or a poet.

You shouldn’t let your sexuality define you, being queer is just a part of you, not you. You can love football and still be queer, you can be queer and not be into fashion or Broadway. It is up to you to choose what defines you.

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